You'd be hard pressed to find someone out there who could downplay the influence and impact of social media sites on the music scene around the world. The Myspaces, Facebooks, Doubans, Weibos, and hell, even the ChatRoulettes of the world have been a terrific tool for aspiring musicians to have their music heard, and get instant feedback. These social channels have exposed a myriad of talent out there, and unearthed a few diamonds in the rough.
As important as social networks are in providing a platform for bands and producers to showcase their talent, you rarely hear about the bands that have actually been formed using these platforms. I, for one, wouldn’t even consider finding a stranger on the Internet to form a band with. You’ve heard of The Postal Service? Though they collaborated via email rather than on any social network, and I’m not sure there are many others out there. Enter The Stanleys... They've given me the glimmer of hope I needed to try and get the old band back together over international waters.
In 2011, a couple of Aussies met Thomas Dahl of Norway, and former drummer of Turbenegro, over Myspace, and formed the pop/rock foursome The Stanleys. If you’ve heard their titular single off their freshman EP Always, you get a clear idea of what these guys are about. It’s not particularly complex, but if you’re looking for some truly poppy rock-and-roll, you needn’t look farther than this. With all the sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of music floating around these days, sometimes honest and clear rock-and-roll can be swept under the carpet. The Stanleys are living proof that the roots of rock-and-roll still has a pulse, and can still be fun and entertaining. With strong guitars, a driving beat, and a sprinkling of some synth keyboards in the mix, The Stanleys create a sound that conjures up memories of driving around in your drop top convertible (if you actually had one) during the summer time.
Managing to retain the production services of Ken Stringfellow (of R.E.M. fame) and Andy Lawson (from Eskimo Joe), The Stanleys have certainly created a crisp, well produced, and clean EP – not bad for their first attempt. Nostalgia pours out of the compositions and brings me straight back to my childhood memories of listening to good quality rock and roll music.
Coming to Shanghai this Friday (11th) courtesy of This Town Touring, we managed to get in touch with front man Mark Di Renzo to talk about the resurgence of the keyboard, forming a band over Myspace, and bowling.
'Fuck it dude. Let's go bowling.'
S247: So, why are you guys touring China?
Di Renzo: I personally have been lucky enough to play many shows in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia and it is always great to tour somewhere new. In Australia, China is one of the countries in the world that we know the least about and that makes it intriguing. We don't know quite what to expect. We've heard that culturally it's unlike anywhere else in the world – and we can't wait to experience that culture ourselves. Our debut EP, Always, is available over there via China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom so it’s a great excuse to get on a plane to meet everybody and let them know about The Stanleys!
S247: Have you been here before? What do you know, if anything, about the music scene in Shanghai or China in general?
Di Renzo: None of us have been to China before. I've heard Pairs from Shanghai. I really like the dirty, distorted, low-fi yet energetic sound of their music. I’ve heard from other musicians around the world that Shanghai in particular has a pretty happening music scene – so I’m looking forward to checking it out.
S247: How did the whole Myspace collaboration come about? What kind of difficulties come with a long-distance band relationship?
Di Renzo: The world can be a small place sometimes. Whilst on tour with my previous band GIGANTIC in Japan, mutual friends of Tomas (Dahl) and I recommended that Paul and I listen to some great power pop from an act called Caddy. Caddy was essentially Tomas' solo side project at the time and he and his band had toured Japan shortly before GIGANTIC's tour. We checked out Caddy on Myspace and loved it! We hooked up with Tomas via his Caddy page and he just so happened to dig GIGANTIC. After chatting online we decided to begin writing songs together over email. We would shoot mp3s to each other every so often roughing out songs as demos and eventually decided to hit some studios to record them proper.
There aren’t a lot of difficulties for us at all with the distance. Tomas is a studio member of the band so he records all his stuff over in Oslo and we get to send bits and pieces to each other until presto we have a song! I find the process of building the songs really enjoyable and at times it’s almost as if the bits of the song are talking to each other and very naturally finding their place.
S247: This Town Touring has been bringing lots of Australian bands to China for pretty extensive tours. Is there something particularly enticing about China for Australian bands?
Di Renzo: As I mentioned earlier I believe that China is one of the countries in the world that Australians know least about and that makes it intriguing and appealing. And I guess the size of the population is a great drawcard too since the more people there are, the more room there hopefully is for different music styles and bands.
S247: I would say that for a while there, it wasn't considered "cool" to have a keyboardist in a rock band. It seems to be coming back into the fold though and that stigma has been shed. As the keyboardist/bass player how do you react to that statement, and what are the reasons for its revival?
Di Renzo: It is true that keyboards certainly do come in and out of fashion for rock bands and perhaps with the '80s revival its helped keys become cool again. To me, the main reason I play music is not because I want to be famous or hip or whatever but because I love it. And as selfish as it might sound I first and foremost want to write and play the music that I enjoy rather than what’s in fashion so it doesn’t really phase me either way whether it’s cool or not at a particular time to play keys or do this or that. I’ve always said it’s about what the song is asking for. Our song Always is actually the first time I’ve personally ever had a keyboard melody that was featured at the forefront of the song and I’m quite excited about the positive reaction it has received thus far!
'Over the line!'
S247: Your freshman EP is very well produced and clean, what was it like working with Ken Stringfellow and Andy Lawson? And on top of that, recording in Norway, France, and Australia?
Di Renzo: It was an absolute pleasure working with both Ken and Andy. To work with a power pop idol like Ken with his credentials with R.E.M. and The Posies was fantastic. It was really great of him to invite us to stay at his house in Paris and work on the tunes. I really just couldn't say no to an offer like that. He sang some backing vocals and played some percussion on the release too.
Andy and I have been working together in our home towns of Perth and Fremantle for years now so we understand each other. He’s very good at creating a very relaxed environment and he has a great knack of knowing how to twiddle those knobs.
It's been a fun collaborative process, but the four of us have never actually been in the studio at once – and I think this has meant more flavours in the end result – which can only be a good thing.
S247: With the Always EP under your belts, do you plan on recording a full length any time soon?
Di Renzo: After the China tour we’ve got a big run of dates in the US and Canada, including a couple of really cool festivals over there (Summerfest and NXNE) but later in the year it would be great to start thinking about recording a full length. We’ve got some newer songs that I’m quite excited about and we will be playing some of those at our Shanghai show (and some of the other China shows) so audiences can get a taste of what’s to come. We’re looking forward to seeing how the audiences over there enjoy them.
S247: Do you guys really like bowling? Who is the best bowler?
Di Renzo: Sure do. That’s a tough one because we’re actually all fairly evenly “lousy” skill wise but that doesn’t stop us having some fun along the way!
WORDS: ANDREW BYRNE / MARK DI RENZO